Prince Estabrook

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Prince Estabrook was an enslaved black man and Minutemen Private[1] who fought and was wounded at the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the first battle of the American Revolutionary War.[2] An undated broadside from the time identified him as "a Negro Man", spelled his name Easterbrooks, and listed him among the wounded from Lexington, Massachusetts.[3] Born around 1741, he was a slave belonging to the family of Benjamin Estabrook from whom he most likely took his name. He was freed.[4]

Early life[edit]

Prince Estabrook was an enslaved black man owned by Benjamin Estabrook of Lexington. Nothing is known of Prince Estabrook’s birth. If Prince was brought in from outside of Lexington to live with the Estabrook family, his arrival should have been registered with the town selectmen. There is no such entry for Prince Estabrook. While the lack of registration isn’t definitive, it makes it more likely that he was born into the Estabrook home as the son of another slave, Tony. Tony was owned by Benjamin’s grandfather, Joseph Estabrook II, and was willed to his father, Joseph III[5] . Estabrook family histories also state that Prince was inherited by Benjamin from his Father.

By 1775, Prince would have been one of a small number of slaves in Lexington. Estimates range from as few as five to as many as 24[6] . Slavery in New England was very different than slavery in the south, and it is likely that Prince spent his days doing farm labor alongside of Benjamin and helping with household chores. There are also reports that Benjamin and Prince were quite friendly, with Prince even helping Benjamin to sell horses[7].

Battle of Lexington Green[edit]

Paul Revere rode into Lexington around midnight on April 19th, 1775. A second rider who took a longer route, William Dawes, arrived about a half hour later. The pair of riders were dispatched to warn the town of Concord that British troops were marching toward the town. The riders stopped to confer with John Hancock and Sam Adams, who were staying with a cousin of Hancock, Reverend Jonas Clarke[8].

Shortly after the riders left to continue to Concord, Captain John Parker sounded the alarm in order to assemble the Lexington militia on the common sometime after 1 a.m. With no British troops in sight, the militia was told to disperse, but to stay in the area where they could hear the drums if called to reassemble. Many took up in Buckman Tavern directly across the street from Lexington green[9].

When called to reassemble several hours later, there was an estimated 77 militia soldiers gathered on the green. The soldiers took a defense stance as an estimated 700 British troops approached[10] . Although law may have prevented him from training with the militia, Prince Estabrook was among those who answered the call[11].

As tensions rose between the two groups, a shot rang out. The source of the first shot is still not known to this day. The skirmish that followed left eight dead militiamen and nine injured. Among the injured was Prince Estabrook, who was wounded in the left shoulder. Several of the wounded, including Prince, were taken to the Estabrook home and were treated by Dr. Joseph Fiske[12].

Continued Service in the Continental Army[edit]

Prince Estabrook made a full recovery from the injuries he suffered on April 19th and was back in action about two months later. During the Battle of Bunker Hill on the 17th and 18th of June 1775, the men of Lexington Company were assigned to guard the headquarters of the newly formed Continental Army in Cambridge, MA. Prince Estabrook was among those who stood guard[13].

There is no record of Estabrook taking place in any further military activities until July of 1776. At that time, Estabrook joined Colonel Jonathan Reed’s regiment making its way to Fort Ticonderoga. Although the American fleet was defeated on Lake Champlain in the Battle of Valcour Island, the British never attacked the troops stationed at Fort Ticonderoga. The unit remained at Fort Ticonderoga until they were discharged on November 30th[14].

Estabrook was again called to serve the following year. From November 6, 1777 to sometime in April 1778 Estabrook guarded British prisoners in Cambridge. In late July 1780 Estabrook signed a six-month enlistment and was discharged on April 7, 1781. In June of 1781, he enlisted for another three years. Estabrook was a member of the Massachusetts Third Regiment and likely spent his time building forts in the New York area. The Massachusetts 3rd was permanently disbanded on November 3, 1783[15].

Emancipation[edit]

Prince Estabrook returned to Lexington after the war as a free man. It is often stated that Benjamin granted Prince his freedom, but the Quock Walker case effectively outlawed the practice by the time Prince returned from the war.

In whatever way Prince gained his freedom, he remained with Benjamin’s family upon his return. The 1790 census shows Benjamin Estabrook’s household included a “non-white freeman” as a resident. Prince likely remained with Benjamin as a paid farmhand during this period. There is not much known about his role in the community, aside from some stories that point to him being well regarded by the residents[16].

Some sources point to Prince Estabrook being married during this time, but there is no marriage on record.

Later Life and Death[edit]

Prince Estabrook memorial in Lexington, Massachusetts.

Following Benjamin’s death in 1803, the Estabrook family began to disperse. His son, Nathan, moved to land that belonged to Benjamin in Ashby, MA in 1805 after selling the house in Lexington. It was around this time that Prince, who would have been in his mid-sixties, moved to live with Nathan in Ashby[17].

Prince Estabrook’s age was estimated at 90 when he died of unknown causes in 1830. He was buried behind the Ashby Church and his grave was marked simply as “Prince Estabrook, Negro.” In 1930 the US War Department replaced the headstone with one recognizing his service during the Revolutionary War[18].  The town of Ashby once held ceremonies to commemorate Black History Month at his gravesite, but the site goes virtually unrecognized today[19].

Memorials[edit]

The town of Lexington honored Prince Estabrook with a Monument in front of Buckman Tavern in 2008. The inscription reads:

In Honor of Prince Estabrook -- Prince Estabrook was a slave who lived in Lexington. At dawn on April 19, 1775, he was one of the Lexington Minute Men awaiting the arrival of the British Regulars at the Buckman Tavern. In the battle which followed, Prince Estabrook was wounded on Lexington Green. Through circumstances and destiny, he thus became the first black soldier to fight in the American Revolution. -- This monument is dedicated to the memory of Prince Estabrook and the thousands of other courageous black patriots long denied the recognition they deserve. -- Donated by the Alice Hinkle Memorial Fund -- April 21, 2008

Minuteman Memorial in Lexington, MA
Minuteman Memorial in Lexington, MA. Estabrook's name can be seen in the lower left with a heart indicating he was injured.

Prince Estabrook is also listed with the names of the Lexington Minutemen who were present on April 19, 1775. He has a small heart following his name, indicating that he was among those injured.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Kondratiuk (2010)
  2. ^ Brooks (1999), pp. 55–56
  3. ^ PBS
  4. ^ Hinkle (2001)
  5. ^ Hinkle, Alice (2001). Prince Estabrook: Slave and Soldier. Lexington: Pleasant Mountain Press. pp. 26–28. ISBN 978-0967977102.
  6. ^ Kollen, Richard (2004). Lexington: From Liberty's Birthplace to Progressive Suburb. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing. p. 18. ISBN 978-1589731011.
  7. ^ Hinkle, Alice (2001). Prince Estabrook: Slave and Soldier. Lexington: Pleasant Mountain Press. p. 29. ISBN 978-0967977102.
  8. ^ Kollen, Richard (2004). Lexington: From Liberty's Birthplace to Progressive Suburb. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing. pp. 29–30. ISBN 978-1589731011.
  9. ^ Kollen, Richard (2004). Lexington: From Liberty's Birthplace to Progressive Suburb. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing. p. 30. ISBN 978-1589731011.
  10. ^ Hinkle, Alice (2001). Prince Estabrook: Slave and Soldier. Lexington: Pleasant Mountain Press. p. 16. ISBN 978-0967977102.
  11. ^ Seymour, Pete (May 2020). "Prince Estabrook of Lexington". National Park Service.
  12. ^ Hinkle, Alice (2001). Prince Estabrook: Slave and Soldier. Lexington: Pleasant Mountain Press. p. 29. ISBN 978-0967977102.
  13. ^ Hinkle, Alice (2001). Prince Estabrook: Slave and Soldier. Lexington: Pleasant Mountain Press. p. 31. ISBN 978-0967977102.
  14. ^ Hinkle, Alice (2001). Prince Estabrook: Slave and Soldier. Lexington: Pleasant Mountain Press. p. 33. ISBN 978-0967977102.
  15. ^ Hinkle, Alice (2001). Prince Estabrook: Slave and Soldier. Lexington: Pleasant Mountain Press. pp. 33–35. ISBN 978-0967977102.
  16. ^ Hinkle, Alice (2001). Prince Estabrook: Slave and Soldier. Lexington: Pleasant Mountain Press. pp. 36–37. ISBN 978-0967977102.
  17. ^ Hinkle, Alice (2001). Prince Estabrook: Slave and Soldier. Lexington: Pleasant Mountain Press. pp. 38–39. ISBN 978-0967977102.
  18. ^ Daut, Marlene (May 2013). "Estabrook, Prince". African American National Biography.
  19. ^ Kromer, Karen (Oct 6, 1991). "Revolutionary Life Obscured by Time; Black Soldier/Slave is Buried in Ashby". Telegram & Gazette.

References[edit]